The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was perhaps the perfect launch title for Switch; not only is it a critically-acclaimed classic in its own right, but it also took the beloved series in an exciting new direction, something which could also be said about the Switch itself, thanks to its unique hybrid nature.
While the launch of both Zelda: BotW and the Switch feels like an age ago, the allure of Link's gripping open world adventure remains intact, and as if to illustrate this, publisher Dark Horse has just released The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild - Creating a Champion, an officially-licensed tome packed with artwork, interviews and much more besides. It also contains a junk-less Link.
We were lucky enough to sit down with Patrick Thorpe, series editor at Dark Horse Comics, about the new publication.
Nintendo Life: There have been multiple Zelda releases from Dark Horse in the past couple of years. What makes this one different, and why should fans care?
Patrick Thorpe: The first three books that we published spanned the first thirty years of the Legend of Zelda franchise. This one is specifically focused on one game.
Hyrule Historia gave us a look at the development of Skyward Sword and everything leading up to it both in development materials as well as lore. Art & Artifacts was nearly all of the fully realized artwork from the series from advertisements to instruction booklets and beyond. The Legend of Zelda: Encyclopedia was just that, a compendium full of information on the first thirty years of the series as well as an expansion of the lore from Hyrule Historia. If you have those three books, which we’ve grouped together as the Goddess Collection, you have a pretty comprehensive look at the first thirty years of The Legend of Zelda as a franchise.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild—Creating a Champion is the first time that we’ve done a book entirely dedicated to one entry in the series. It’s 424 pages dedicated entirely to Breath of the Wild. 300 of those pages are concept art and notes from the developers. 50 are all of the fully realized illustrations that the game’s official illustrator Takumi Wada has completed for the series to date. There are interviews with some of the key members of the development team—Satoru Takizawa, Hidemaro Fujibayashi, Wada-san, and Eiji Aonuma. But the portion of the book that will probably generate the most discussion is the “History” section. It sticks nearly exclusively to Hyrule’s history as known in Breath of the Wild. The Great Calamity wiped out most of the records of what came before, so this section chronicles in detail all the history that remains.
Breath of the Wild is a huge, huge game. It absolutely dwarfs every other entry in the series, so can you explain how your team's process in chronicling everything about it?
The chronicling of the Breath of the Wild assets was done entirely in Japan by Nintendo's Breath of the Wild team and our friends at the publisher Ambit for their book entitled Master Works. Creating a Champion is a localization of Master Works. Our job was to translate and localize their book for the North American, and, more broadly, English-speaking fan base.
So far, the Nintendo art books that we have published have been localizations of books created and designed in Japan, though, we are in the early stages of development on three or perhaps four books that will be created in-house. Dark Horse does both localizations as well as our own material.
Pass along something that surprised you that you learned about Breath of the Wild while working on this volume.
I think my very favourite section of the book focuses around the immediate aftermath of the Great Calamity.
In the game, you see a ton of ruins scattered throughout Hyrule, and it’s easy to piece together through recovered memories and those ruins a rough outline of what happened. However, this book gets into detail about the events that likely happened that day—the one that affected me most was the contrast of the defence of Akkala Citadel and Fort Hateno. How did Fort Hateno, a mere checkpoint wall that was likely staffed by volunteers from Hateno village manage to hold off the full force of the Guardians’ invasion, while Akkala, fully equipped to withstand sieges, occupied by the finest soldiers, with all the advantages of both geological defences as well as powerful batteries, fell. If Fort Hateno had fallen, that may have been it for the Hylians. It’s a moving story worthy of being called a miracle.
There are other surprising things in the book as well. This game was all about revising expectations. They asked a bunch of hard questions, the most central of which is what makes a Zelda game a Zelda game? Does Link need to wear a green tunic and a hat all the time? Do we need to have the Triforce present? What can we reinvent? What can we strip away? Asking all those questions encouraged a great deal of creative thinking. Seeing Link in a blue tunic may have been a shock to fans, but some of their other ideas were so far afield from what we’ve seen before that the blue tunic seems conservative. It’s really fun to see all of the ideas that they were playing with.
There seems to be some confusion, maybe even indignation about where Breath of the Wild happens in the Zelda timeline. Does this book shed any light on this whatsoever?
Yes. This has already been addressed in a few interviews by the game’s developers, but if you are trying to avoid timeline spoilers, maybe skip to the next question.
Breath of the Wild is set in the far, far-flung future of Hyrule. Every game that we have played so far may or may not be a part of this game’s history. There are certainly myths and legends. For example, during the ceremonial blessing of Link by Princess Zelda, she makes reference to being “skyward bound” or “steeped in the glowing embers of twilight.” Then, of course, there are some artefacts from other games that show up. However, they leave the whole mythology open-ended. Were those legends real? Were they myths? Are these artefacts from this dimension or another?
They tried very hard not to limit the player’s imagination. They want them to have the latitude to make up their own timeline. They want the player to have an experience unique to them. Just like the open world of Breath of the Wild, they have created the freedom for anything to be possible.
There are two special editions of this book. Why did this happen, and did you have any say in the designs and where fans would be able to get them?
The reason that there are two special editions is that you cannot find a bigger Zelda fan than our designer, Cary Grazzini. Before we even started working on this book, he had put over 500 hours into the game, though, I expect that number is much higher now. He found all the Korok seeds without a mask by walking the whole map in a grid. In his own personal rulebook, using the mask the first time around would feel like cheating.
The gold cartridge edition for the Encyclopedia had been my idea, and this book followed directly on the heels of that book. I was exhausted and out of ideas so I left it all to Cary. I told him that I was tapped out. I could not think of a thing.
The weekend goes by and Cary has two fully mocked up special editions of the book prepared. He had spent all weekend working on them. He told me he had been thinking about ideas for the special editions for a year and that he had so many ideas that they broke into two separate, complementary ideas.
The Hero’s Edition focuses solely on Link and the striking new visual aesthetic they used for him. Each piece of that edition was something personal relating to the hero—the spirit orb, the picture he hangs in his Hateno home, and the adventurer’s map. The reason we went with cloth for the cover was to be reminiscent of the material of his tunic.
That didn’t feel complete, though. This game, maybe more so than others, really feels like a cooperation between Link and the other colourful characters. We wanted the Champions’ Edition to be a love letter to those new characters. You really only get to know Urbosa, Mipha, Daruk, and Revali through brief interactions, memories, journals, etc., but those little windows into their lives and their legacies loom large. By the end of the game, I loved those characters. It felt right to have an edition that honoured them, and we made it as beautiful as we possibly could. We didn’t want to overlap any of the material from those two editions. If you get one, it stands alone. If you get both, they compliment each other. You’ll have the spirit orb as well as all four champions’ orbs. You’ll have the map of Hyrule as well as the tapestry. That kind of thing.
We wanted people to have a choice. If Link is what they loved most about the game, there is an edition for that. If the champions are their favourite part, there is an edition for that.
As for the regular edition, it was important to me that it be white. For the first three, we went with the colours of the goddesses Farore, Din, and Nayru. It didn’t feel right not to have an edition that honoured Hylia. The four books, next to each other, are our nod to the goddesses.
How many hours do you have on Breath of the Wild, personally?
Phew... somewhere between 250 and 300. I played the game a little differently than most. I played it like an archaeologist. All of the history section in the back, where the ruins were, how the batteries at Akkala faced, etc., had to be fact-checked. So I warped all over the map, scouring the most obscure regions of the game to make sure that our text was accurate. I’ve been a Hyrule historian. This time I was a Hylian anthropologist. As you can imagine, I had a blast making this book.
Is Dark Horse finally done with the Zelda franchise for the time being? Or could there be more in the wings, Zelda or otherwise?
We have officially run out of Zelda games to do books on! If a new and interesting angle on Zelda comes to light, or a new game comes down the line, we’ll be there to make the best books that we possibly can.
I’m working on one localization of a Nintendo property right now, with another likely within the next month. After that, as I mentioned, there are probably three or possibly four books being developed by Dark Horse. I am very, very excited about what comes next.
For now, I’ve done three of these beasts in two years. I am tired. I’m going to sleep for about a hundred years...
We'd like to thank Patrick for his time.
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